Friday, November 10, 2017

The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn by Margaret Willes

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The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn
by Margaret Willes


ISBN-13: 9780300221398
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press
Released: Sept. 19, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
An intimate portrait of two pivotal Restoration figures during one of the most dramatic periods of English history. Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn are two of the most celebrated English diarists. They were also extraordinary men and close friends. Through the richly documented lives of two remarkable men, Willes revisits the history of London and of England in an age of regicide, revolution, fire, and plague to reveal it also as a time of enthralling possibility.

Pepys was earthy and shrewd, while Evelyn was a genteel aesthete, but both were drawn to intellectual pursuits. Brought together by their work to alleviate the plight of sailors caught up in the Dutch wars, they shared an inexhaustible curiosity for life and for the exotic. Willes explores their mutual interests—diary-keeping, science, travel, and a love of books—and their divergent enthusiasms, Pepys for theater and music, Evelyn for horticulture and garden design.


My Review:
The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn is a biography of both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. The author quoted from their diaries and personal correspondence, but she generally summarized what was said (probably because that's easier to read and understand).

She divided their lives into several themes: public careers and wider context of what was going on, descriptions of their family and major friends, their involvement in the Royal Society and interest in science, Pepys' interest in the theatre and music, Evelyn's interest in gardens and gardening and his books on horticulture, and their libraries (books, ballads, prints, etc.). The author also threw in some information about tea, coffee, and chocolate along with other imported consumer goods (including flowers and other plants).

These men lived through the Restoration of Charles II, the plague, and the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was interesting to see their views on what was going on and to get a sense of what life was like at that time. It's a quick look at what was happening and what some people's attitudes and interests were like. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in this time period in England.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

An Herbalist's Guide to Formulary by Holly Bellebuono

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An Herbalist's Guide to Formulary
by Holly Bellebuono


ISBN-13: 9780738753034
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
Released: Nov. 8, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Explore the ancient art of formulary. Organized by body systems, this essential guide provides an easy understanding of physiology and explains how herbs function, helping you design a holistic treatment for acute and chronic conditions. Bellebuono shares her step-by-step method of formulary with examples to illustrate the art of combining plants for specific illnesses, preventative care, and overall wellness.


My Review:
An Herbalist's Guide to Formulary is not a book you can use by itself unless you have an extensive knowledge of herbs. The author provided only very brief information about the herbs, focusing mainly on how the human body works (digestive, cardiovascular, brain & nervous, immune, hormones, etc.) and her formulas. By which I mean, use 2 parts tonic (supportive, long-term usage herb) to 1 part tier 2 herb to 1 part tier 3 herb to 1 part tier 4 herb.

So she'd talk about the respiratory system, for instance, and then list some herbs (tier 1, tier 2, etc.) that would be helpful for various problems with the respiratory system. She'd even suggest specific formulas (2 parts yarrow, 1 part sage, 1 part....taken as tincture). However, she didn't suggest how much of the herb to use (or even say how much was safe). The closest she got to giving amounts was "a small amount." As in, use kelp only in "small amounts due to high sodium content." (And she didn't mention the high iodine content here, which is a greater concern.) She didn't suggest how often or long one might take the formula. She didn't explain how to mix the herbs or make pills, tinctures, etc. She assumed you already know all this about herbs.

Also, I found enough basic errors that I stopped trusting her information. While she generally had good information, she'd say things like constipation is caused by too much fiber (but the opposite is true). She suggested eating yogurt when you have an ulcer, but the current medical advice is to avoid all dairy when you have an ulcer. In one spot, she said to avoid dairy for that condition, then a few sentences later she suggested eating yogurt. She also said some things that were confusing due to not fully explaining what she meant. So she said several times that you shouldn't take garlic long-term, only much later explaining that she was referring to raw garlic. I believe I was reading an advanced reader copy, so maybe the errors will be fixed in the final copy.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Dickens and Christmas by Lucinda Hawksley

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Dickens and Christmas
by Lucinda Hawksley


ISBN-13: 9781526712264
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Released: Oct. 31, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from NetGalley:
Charles Dickens survived childhood poverty to become the most adored and influential man of his time. Written by one of his direct descendants, this book explores not only Dickens’s most famous work, A Christmas Carol, but also his all-too-often overlooked other Christmas novellas. It takes the readers through the seasonal short stories he wrote, for both adults and children, includes much-loved festive excerpts from his novels, uses contemporary newspaper clippings, and looks at Christmas writings by Dickens’ contemporaries.

To give an even more personal insight, readers can discover how the Dickens family itself celebrated Christmas, through the eyes of Dickens’s unfinished autobiography, family letters, and his children’s memoirs. Readers will journey through the Christmases Dickens enjoyed as a child and a young adult, through to the ways in which he and his family celebrated the festive season at the height of his fame. It also explores the ways in which his works have gone on to influence how the festive season is celebrated around the globe.


My Review:
Dickens and Christmas is a biography of Dicken's life with a focus on Christmastime--how his family celebrated Christmas at various times in his life, what books he released, and even changes during his lifetime in how people celebrated Christmas (partly due to the influence of his Christmas stories). The author quoted from books, articles, and Dicken's personal letters to show what Christmas was like for his family and in general.

The main focus was on Dicken's life and included details about his writing. We get summaries and extensive quoting from his first five Christmas releases (A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain) and excerpts of the Christmas scenes from his other novels and short stories. Mixed in with the biographical details were tidbits about traditional Christmas foods, decorations, presents, and activities. You couldn't create your own Dicken's-style Christmas from this book, but you can get an idea of what it was like.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey

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Everyday Watercolor
by Jenna Rainey


ISBN-13: 9780399579721
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: Oct. 10, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
This guided watercolor-a-day book is perfect for beginning watercolor artists. From strokes to shapes, this book covers the basics and helps painters gain confidence in themselves along with inspiration to develop their own style over the course of 30 days. Featuring colorful contemporary art from Mon Voir design agency founder and Instagram trendsetter Jenna Rainey.


My Review:
Everyday Watercolor is a how-to for those who want to learn Rainey's bleed-painting watercolor style. In this technique, you paint in the darkest part, then use clean water to wet the lighter areas, and a final stroke joins the two to create a bleed of the dark into the wet areas. She claims you can control the process, but I found her hints about this so vague it was just a matter of trying different things until I liked what I was getting.

Each lesson lasted between 30-90 minutes, with the first few lessons being shortest. In the lessons, you learn how to paint various leaves, flowers (roses, paradise flower), plants (trees, cacti), fruit (papaya, dragon fruit), animals (chickens, hummingbird, toucan, elephant, macaw), and several landscape or collage-like paintings using these objects.

The book is aimed at complete beginners to watercolor, but she wants you to buy expensive, professional-quality watercolor paper, paints, and brushes. I really liked the idea of teaching the basics (color theory, basic strokes for round brushes, etc.) during actual painting practice, but I think a complete beginner would find the book confusing and frustrating at times.

Some examples: On page 13, she tells you to include both warm and cool colors without explaining these new terms (until a later lesson). The illustrations often had confusing subtitles, like two swatches of green paint with "Winsor Green + Lemon Yellow Deep" under them. The way the text was placed, I initially thought one swatch was supposed to be the green and the other the yellow rather than two greens that you can make using those two paints. She frequently urged "add lots of water," leaving it mostly up to the reader to figure out how to keep the paint from escaping the desired bounds. As her technique requires "lots of water" yet "not too much," more advise on this from the very beginning would have been useful to a complete beginner. However, artists who are more used to the runaway tenancy of watercolor will probably turn out some nice finished lessons.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

River Master by Cecil Kuhne

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River Master
by Cecil Kuhne


ISBN-13: 9781682680742
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Countryman Press
Released: Oct. 31, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from NetGalley:
In 1869, Civil War veteran and amputee Major John Wesley Powell led an expedition down the uncharted Colorado River through the then-nameless Grand Canyon. This is the story of what started as a geological survey, but ended in danger, chaos, and blood.

The men were inexperienced and ill-equipped, and they faced unimaginable peril. Along the way there was death, mutiny, and abject terror, but Powell persevered and produced a masterwork of adventure writing still held in the highest regard by the boatmen who follow his course today.

With never-before-used primary sources and firsthand experience navigating Powell’s legendary route, Cecil Kuhne brings this remarkable chapter of frontier history to life.


My Review:
River Master describes the 97-day 1869 Powell expedition down the uncharted Colorado River. They went into the unknown with the intent to map and do a geological survey of the Colorado River. These ten men had never been on a river, let alone handled whitewater. Their boats were less than ideal for this trip. Yet not a single one drowned, despite many dangerous mishaps.

The author quoted from or summarized the information in the journals written by the men during the trip and records of later interviews with them about the trip. He describe what the trip was like, including the friction caused by running out of food, the danger, and personality conflicts. He also talked about James White's earlier trip on the Colorado River and some later expeditions, including one in 18871/72 led by Major Powell. He talked about Powell's official report, which was written like a journal but was much more colorful than the terse entries made during the actual trip.

The intent of this book was to accurately portray what happened on the trip, so the description was interesting and exciting but didn't include the questionable stories from the later official report. While I enjoyed this amazing story, I think whitewater rafters could better appreciate just what these men went through since much of what was recorded talked about the rapids they encountered. Overall, I'd recommend this book.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Christmas by Judith Flanders

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Christmas
by Judith Flanders


ISBN-13: 9781250118349
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Released: Oct. 24, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from NetGalley:
Christmas has always been a magical time. Or has it? Thirty years after the first recorded Christmas, the Pope was already warning that too many people were spending the day, not in worship, but in partying and eating to excess. By 1616, the playwright Ben Jonson was nostalgically remembering Christmas in the old days, certain that it had been better then.

Christmas is all things to all people: a religious festival, a family celebration, a period of eating and drinking. In Christmas: A Biography, bestselling author and acclaimed social historian Judith Flanders casts a sharp eye on myths, legends and history, deftly moving from the origins of the holiday in the Roman empire, through Christmas trees in central Europe, to what might be the first appearance of Santa Claus – in Switzerland – to draw a picture of the season as it has never been seen before.


My Review:
Christmas is a history of how Christmas was celebrated, mainly in the British Isles, Germany, and America. The author repeatedly stated that Christmas was never primarily a religious holiday as many non-religious-focused activities have always occurred on the day. As most people didn't get the day off work for most of Christmas history, this seems an odd argument. The author came across as believing that Christians who push for more focus on the intended purpose of the holiday (celebrating Christ's birth) shouldn't do so because it's never been celebrated solely by people spending the day in worship and church services.

The author talked about when a day was first chosen to celebrate Christ's birth up to recent times. She examined written sources for what was actually done on Christmas (and New Years) and organized this information in roughly chronological order. It would have been easier for me to remember the progressions if the development of Christmas trees, for example, had been examined all at once rather than in chunks throughout several chapters.

She focused on European customs, mostly English, Scottish, German, and how these mixed and were added to in America after it was colonized. Basically, different areas had different customs or variations of a custom. Many of these customs were not specific to Christmas but became attached to the Christmas season. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that people created an ideal, traditional Christmas (which never existed) and increasingly standardized Christmas legends and activities.

She covered the origins and development of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, decorations, carols, cards, and candles, nativity plays and scenes, holiday foods and alcoholic drinks, gift-giving and wrapping gifts, advertising, parades, and holding special Christmas religious services. She explained kissing boughs, wassailing, mumming, role switching, and 12th Night activities. She talked about how Christmas was banned in several areas for a while and how the day changed into a child-focused holiday. She talked about how Washington Irving's and Charles Dicken's fictional depictions influence how people celebrated Christmas and how radio, film, and TV movies further created new Christmas traditions.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Mehndi for the Inspired Artist by Heather Caunt-Nulton

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Mehndi for the Inspired Artist
by Heather Caunt-Nulton, Alex Morgan, Iqra Qureshi, Sonia Sumaira


ISBN-13: 9781633222410
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Walter Foster
Released: Oct. 17, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description from NetGalley:
Mehndi for the Inspired Artist presents artists with a step-by-step approach to creating a variety of skillful designs, including traditional and globally influenced patterns, as well as modern mehndi designs.

Starting with a brief introduction, readers will learn how to create a range of henna designs following the easy, step-by-step demonstrations of professional henna artists. Artists will then learn to incorporate their designs into a variety of DIY art projects, as well as transfer them to a range of surfaces and decorative items for a unique, personal touch. Using a variety of tools and materials, Mehndi for the Inspired Artist is sure to inspire endless DIY craft projects with both traditional and contemporary mehndi patterns that will delight henna enthusiasts of all ages.


My Review:
Mehndi for the Inspired Artist provides instruction on how to create basic mehndi patterns and how to use these designs on do-it-yourself projects (usually using acrylic paint instead of henna). The authors started by briefly explaining the history of using henna to create designs on the skin. They included a recipe on how to make your own henna paste and how to use it on skin.

The various artists then gave stroke-by-stroke pictures showing how to draw some basic mehndi designs (paisley, several flowers and vines, an arch, mandala, peacock, bands and borders, braids, etc.). Even a child could follow the directions and create the patterns.

Next were the step-by-step projects with pictures illustrating each step, and the end results looked beautiful. I expect a beginner's projects won't look quite so neat (as in, clean lines), but everything takes practice. The projects included decorating an envelope, candle, picture frame, wooden monogram letter, animal-skin tambourine, wooden jewelry box, wooden table coaster, charger plate, mason jar, and making pendants. They didn't explain where you might get some of the less-available supplies, which might have been useful, but I suppose you can find them online.

I've used henna to create temporary body art in the past, but I wasn't using traditional designs. I enjoyed learning more about how to create traditional designs and make up your own variations. I'd recommend this book to those interested in basic mehndi patterns and designs.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.